When you think of the arts, you might not first think of West Virginia, but the state is an ideal destination for musicians, according to the executive director of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
Despite what many aspiring artists have heard, it's possible to pursue a rewarding career in music in West Virginia, says Michael Lipton, who's been spending time visiting state schools through the hall's Traveling Museum program.
Lipton says that in many ways, conditions are ideal for artists. The cost of living is low, employment in the industry is available, and small communities are welcoming of artistic residents.
Many big-city venues are also a drive of less than a half-day away, he says.
Lipton supports the musical aspirations of students whenever possible and reminds parents and educators that there are advantages to remaining in the state after high school and college and that these advantages are available to the musically inclined.
During one presentation, he says, it occurred to him that none of the students had any inclination to remain in the state after their graduations.
“On one of those presentations, I asked the kids to raise their hands if they wanted to stay in West Virginia after high school, and nearly all of them said they did not," Lipton said.
"Then I asked for a show-of-hands for who wanted to leave West Virginia after high school, and about three-quarters of them said they did. So I asked them why, and one student said, ‘My teacher told us we would have to leave the state if we want to have a good job and good opportunities.'"
Lipton says that members of his team now tell students that metropolitan areas may provide a more steady, if demanding, source of income, but not to discount the benefits of returning to West Virginia. The state is hungry for motivated young people, he says, and many institutions are will to reach out to attract and retain energetic populations.
“If you’re willing to stay here and try and make things happen, you'll find there are many people from the city council to the upper echelon of state government that will help you,” he says.
“We try and open students’ eyes to the opportunities that are here,” he added. "We don’t tell them not to leave the state, because it is important to get a glimpse of the bigger world, but we just remind them not to forget what West Virginia has to offer."
Lipton said that compared to other states, support for musicians is greater, and the battle for resources is more easily won.
“In other states with higher populations and perhaps more opportunities, there is also a lot more competition than there is here. And the way West Virginia’s people are—you just don’t find that anywhere else.”
Lipton says he hopes to change thinking about the state when and where possible.
“So we help the students to see that it’s wrong to think there are no opportunities here,” he says. “In fact, it is far easier to get a foot in the door here, maybe more so than anywhere else in the world. Even if you can’t or don’t want to go to college.”
"We want students and adults to understand that there are always options for staying in West Virginia if that is what someone wants to do," he says.
“We also explain to them that there are many more possibilities for working in music other than just performing. In addition to performing, there are viable non-performing jobs including catering, engineering, tour, and personal management, photography, instrument, and stage management.”
The relatively low cost of living is also of benefit to artists with modest incomes, he said.
“If you are based in West Virginia, your money goes much further, and you can live in a way that you might not be able to elsewhere.”
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